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The Cairo Diary by Maxim Chattam

Publisher:  St. Martinís Press   ISBN:  0312360991

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Readers

2005:  Marion is whisked away from Paris, in the dead of the night, by the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), the French equivalent of the CIA, to a monastery in Mont-Saint-Michel on the west coast of France.  The DST tells her that the move is necessary to protect her from danger.  To keep her from getting bored, she is put to work inventorying books at the neighborhood library in Avranches.  She finds a diary, hidden inside the binding of an Edgar Allen Poe book, written by a Jeremy Matheson, in 1928.  As she reads the diary Marion is transported to the past and into a horrendous mystery.

1928:  Several young children disappear in British-occupied Cairo; they are later found dead and horribly mutilated.  Witnesses claim that the murderer is not human but a monster like those written about in One Thousand and One Nights.  Jeremy Matheson is a British investigator who decides to investigate the case and the trail leads him into the Cairo underground and back to his own haunted past.

As Marionís interest in the diary increases; the events of the past intersect with the present, and she has the distinct feeling that she is being watched.  Additionally, someone is leaving odd notes and riddles in Marionís room.  As Marionís interest in Jeremy deepens to an obsession and possibly love, several attempts are made to reclaim the diary.  Who is the mysterious elderly man that Marion befriends? Are the brothers and sisters of the monastery involved?

The Cairo Diary is Maxim Chattamís debut novel and a really well crafted mystery.  The reader easily moves between the two eras as the protagonistís interest in the diary increases.  Marion is a haunted woman who winds up at the monastery as a result of a shocking event.  Her life has been turned upside down and the diary that captures Mathesonís investigation becomes her obsession.  Chattam builds the suspense up to the last page of the book.  To the end, the reader is left wondering what really happened. 


Encounter by Deadline by Mel Taylor

Publisher:  Avalon  ISBN:  978-0-8034-9839-6

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Do you watch TV news and have a favorite reporter?  One like Matt Bowens, perhaps, who personally investigates each story he reports? 

The competition is fierce in the news business and a race to get the story first.  So when Matt learns an old associate has been shot and two large diamonds are involved, he is very interested.

A body is linked to the first shooting by a car and other evidence and then the first victim disappears from the hospital.  Like the good reporter he is, Matt follows a faint trail and winds up facing death. 

I'm pleased to recommend this tale to any mystery fan, especially those who like joining a reporter in search of the roots of his story.  Talented author Mel Taylor has created a fun read with lots of realistic characters you'll enjoy meeting. 



Saturnalia by Lindsey Davis

Publisher:  St. Martinís Press    ISBN:  0312361297

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Return to ancient Rome during Saturnalia; a large and important public festival commemorating the dedication of the temple to the god Saturn.  What should be a wonderfully entertaining event in the lives of Marcus Didius Falco and his wife Helena, turns into a family disaster.  Falco is hired by Emperor Vespasian who pits him against his arch rival Chief Spy Anacrites in the search for Veleda, a tribal leader and prophetess from Germania.  Veleda has been captured, brought back to Rome and then placed under house arrest when she disappears.  Falco is well poised to find the prophetess because he knows all too well what she looks like because Veleda is the first love of Helenaís brother Justinus.  To make matters worse Helena leaves the dead body of Sextus Gratianus in her wake as she escapes at the same time Justinusí marital problems erupts and he goes missing as well.  Falco is hired to find Veleda, the prime suspect in the murder before this embarrassing turn of events becomes public knowledge and a political nightmare.  Helena assists her husband in the investigation with her uncanny insights, in hopes that her brother is found unscathed.

Saturnalia is the 18th book in the Marcus Didius Falco series.  Lindsey Davis brings to life ancient Rome while weaving a murder mystery into the backdrop of Saturnalia; a holiday during which inhibitions are caste aside.  Marcus Didius Falco and his wife Helena team as amateur sleuths to solve the case and to avoid family disgrace.  Fans of Elizabeth Petersí series featuring Amelia Peabody Emerson and her husband Radcliffe will want to add this coupleís series to their ďmust readĒ list



Spare Change by Robert B. Parker

Publisher: Putnam    ISBN 978-0-399-15425

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

Robert B. Parker has something on his mind in Spare Change, the sixth in the Sunny Randall series. That something is family, and the various levels at which they function. Or don't.

We join the proceedings as Sunny and her father, retired Boston cop Phil Randall, are going over old crime-scene photos. They represent the evidence in Phil's definitive case, the Spare Change Killer. So named because the killer always left a nickel, dime and quarter at the scene of his crimes. The reason for this review is, it appears, the return of Spare Change after decades of absence. New bodies bearing the same signature are showing up, and Phil is being consulted, and he's brought in Sunny as support.

With that simple device, Parker spends a lot of time exploring the relationship between father and daughter, and the resultant blowback amongst the fairly fractured Randall Family. Phil and Sunny are the stable ones; Sunny's mother and sister are, well, not so much. This creates some fabulous family tension, well-explored in a particularly memorable dinner scene as Phil, who of course loves all these women completely, remains serenely bemused. He is the calm center of the Randall Family Storm, and the expansion of the character is extremely welcome, and even encouraging to men in similar situations.

As Phil and Sunny integrate themselves into the Boston PD investigation, we are given fresh looks, through Sunny's eyes, at characters Parker readers know lots about, particularly Marty Quirk and Frank Belson, and that's fun. Of course, Sunny's sessions with Susan Silverman are part of the proceedings, and our exposure to the professional side of her character are a great side-dish of this particular meal.

Suspects are, at first, hard to come by, but Sunny's persistence brings one fellow to everyone's attention--his name is Bob Johnson, and while there is no evidence to tie him to the crimes, Our Girl has the instincts that tell her he is Spare Change. So she uses her feminine wiles (they are plenty) to build a relationship with this guy. Paying no attention to the fact that Bob would have been barely a teenager when the murders began, she stages some fascinating "dates" with him, some at the restaurant owned by series regular Spike, self-professed "World's Toughest Queer", and one of Parker's most entertaining characters.

Added to the mix in this story are Sunny's ex-husband Richie, slowly working his way back into her life as his current marriage unravels. She knows she can't be married to Richie, but she's also learned that she can't be with anyone else (poor Jesse Stone). Quite the quandary.

There's also Sunny's pal, Julie, the world's most unqualified counselor. They have a double date with a couple of fellas about half-way through the book that is truly hilarious. In a tragic way.

As Sunny and Phil drill deeper into the life of Bob Johnson, they gain some insight into the personal life of this man, who at first blush is nearly a cipher. Some things support their suspicions, many do not.

The resolution is tense, action-packed, and deals very specifically with the themes that Parker is talking about throughout the book--the impact of fathers on our lives. He does such a great job of establishing the bond between Phil and Sunny--it's both the narrative and moral nexus of Spare Change.

It's hard not to read this series without thinking of Helen Hunt, for whom the character was originally created as a movie franchise. It's too bad, seems that Ms. Hunt could use the work. But it also gives Sunny a persona that is consistent. It's almost as if Parker is thinking the same thing as he writes the books.

Regardless, the Sunny Randall series is one of the genre's most entertaining, and with Spare Change, Parker has added new layers of depth to the character, while telling a great tale of murder. 

And yes, family.




The First Shall be the Last by Joyce and Jim Lavene

Publisher:  Avalon    ISBN: 978-0-8034-983-9

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Sheriff Sharyn Howard has given up one love for another.  Why?  Neither she nor the old love are taking the deliberate split-up well, but life goes on.

A deputy killed, the new love, a bad snow storm, a dead woman and her little boy missing, murder and politics--all happening at once.  What more could be added to the heap?

Lots of tension as Sharyn tries to sort out the crimes from accidents, friend from enemy and her personal life.  How far does one overlap into the other?

A good read for any mystery buff who likes a story with plenty of things happening and lots of questions to keep you reading. The talented team of authors Joyce and Jim Lavene have created an interesting cast of characters, some of whom you will find in their other books. Such a series gives the reader a sense of old friendships.  Enjoy.  I did.




Slip & Fall by Nick Santora

Publisher:  State Street Press  ISBN: 978-0-68112-749-4

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

Robert Principe graduates from Columbia Law School determined to return to his Bensonhurst neighborhood in Brooklyn and make a difference in the lives of working class people like his parents.  Smug that although he isnít drawing a six-figure salary, he also isnít working 80 hour weeks like his former classmates, Robertís smugness turns to desperation a few years later when he finds it isnít so easy to help people and make a decent living.

His house about to go into foreclosure, his business about to fold, and with unexpected personal demands, in a moment of weakness Robert proposes a scam to his thug-cousin, Jackie Masella.  The insurance fraud they perpetrate is so successful that Jackieís boss, mobster Lou Turro, wants to make it an ongoing project.  Rob, normally scrupulously honest, initially wants out because his conscience is bothering him, but he quickly realizes that Jackieís enthusiastic stupidity in recruiting new participants is going to get them caught.

Getting out of the mob isnít so easy as getting in is.  Rob does all the wrong things for all the right reasons, and as entertaining and heart-rending as Slip & Fall is, itís just not credible that Rob would participate in fraud.  Author Nick Santora, a writer for The Sopranos, helps to deglamorize the Mafia and gives a face, and a heart, to its victims.  Santoraís greatest skill is in giving depth to his characters; Rob, his friends and family (even the moronic and vicious Jackie) will are all ingratiating, loveable characters that you stay on your mind long after the bookís final page.



A Reunion to Die For by Lauren Carr

Publisher:  Five Star  ISBN:  13:  9781594145483

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Twenty years ago a cheerleader was found dead and listed as a suicide, but her mother and others didn't believe it.  Now, as a reunion of her classmates looms on the horizon, another cheerleader is killed.

Can there be a link?  How?  Who would kill two girls so many years apart?  Or are the deaths unrelated, one a suicide and the other the result of a lover's quarrel?

Among those asking questions is the county prosecuting attorney who went to school with the girl thought to be a suicide. His questions grow in earnest when another classmate turns up, saying she's going to write a book about the suicide.

Do her intentions lead to other murders that follow her reappearance?  Talented author Lauren Carr will keep you guessing.  Join Joshua Thornton and others as they try to identify a killer and the motive. 

The realistic characters draw the reader into their lives and you'll want to warn them of danger that lurks in the dark.  You will remember your own class reunions too and marvel at the changes in the middle aged adults you once knew as teenagers.  Some of Joshua's classmates will seem very familiar as though you might have been part of this class.

I'm happy to recommend this well told tale as a book worth the time to read.  You'll want to read other books by this imaginative author.  I know I will.  Enjoy. 




Death at the Old Hotel by Con Lehane

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 031232300X

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

The Savoy Hotel is not the poshest establishment in New York.  When the workers, go on strike things get down and dirty.  The hotel manager is murdered and then a city cop is killed.  The investigation starts zeroing in on a hotel bartender and waitress.  Bartender Brian McNulty can't believe his friends are guilty and sets out to prove the police wrong.

The loyalty of a friend is what every man in trouble wants, and Brian McNulty is loyal in spite of the fact that his loyalty may not be returned.  Lehane builds a plot with so many twists and turns it keeps the brain continuously working.  This is an entertaining thriller that keeps your interest from beginning to end.



A Stranger Lies There by Stephen Santogrossi

Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martinís Minotaur  ISBN:  978-0-312-36441-0

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

One hot Saturday, Tim Ryder takes his morning coffee out to his front porch.  And finds a dead body in his front yard.  Tim doesnít know the young victim, nor does his wife, Deirdre.

Investigators focus on Timís past; as a vulnerable undergraduate, he participated in a botched bank robbery (ostensibly to fund an anti-Vietnam War candidate), and testified against the double-crossing ringleader, Turret, who has just been released from jail.

Theyíre also interested in Deirdreís work as a counselor at a drug clinic.  Timís determination to solve the crime, with or without the assistance of the police, sets into a motion a chain of events that forever alters his life.

Tim travels to hell and backóor at least to New York and Slab City (first introduced to many readers by Sue Grafton), trying to get a bead either on the identity of the victim or Turretís location.  What he learns will stun himóand the reader.

Winner of the St. Martinís Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Contest, A Stranger Lies There is written in the hard-boiled tradition.  Author Stephen Santogrossi portrays a Slab City even more bleak than evoked by Sue Grafton (no small feat) and kept this frequent mystery reader (who can put most books down even in the last twenty pages) up until 3 a.m.



A Fall From Grace by Robert Barnard

Publisher:  Scribner  ISBN:13:  978-0-7432-7220-9

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Have you ever moved to a new town with your family? Were you accompanied by an eccentric relative who was indifferent to the trouble they caused?

Join Charlie Peace and his wife, Felicity, as they make the move to Slepton Edge, taking her father, a self-centered author, along. Things are peaceful for a while, but then gossip from the author's old home town reaches them and the couple finds themselves worrying about the old man.  Will he bring more such talk on himself?

A well-told tale by talented author Robert Barnart, peopled with realistic characters whose own tales are woven into the rich fabric of this tale to make them seem alive. The town of Slepton Edge has the feel of reality and an unexpected death leaves the inhabitants shaken and guessing.  As a lawman, Charlie yearns to get to the bottom things, but is told to keep out by the local law. 

I'm pleased to recommend this book to any mystery fan as one that will provide pleasure in the reading.  After reading it, I feel as though I've had a visit to a small town in England and made new friends.  Enjoy.  I did.


Only the Cat Knows by Marian Babson

Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books  ISBN:  0-312-33238-6

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

A great mix of motives, mystery, and characters who are not what they seem is to be found in the pages of this book. This gives the reader the fun of more than one mystery as you try to figure out who the villain is.

A psychic connection between twins Vance, a female impersonator, and Vanessa, assistant to a wealthy recluse, brings Vance immediate knowledge that his twin has met with a near fatal accident.  He finds her in a private medical facility in a coma so decides to take her place. Vance then goes to the place where Nessa was nearly killed to bring a would-be killer out of hiding.

Vance finds a group of women living in Friary Keep which is the home of wealthy Everett Oversall. Their presence is puzzling until he comes to understand why they remain.  He learns that his sister too had secrets that their link didn't impart to him.

In Vanessa's quarters he encounters her cat who knows this is not his mistress and they come to an uneasy truce, with the cat seeming to dictate the terms.  Once Vance takes his sister's place openly in the household, he finds there are several mysteries to be unraveled and one will lead to the killer.  He uses his supposed medical condition to gain time for his investigation.

Join Vance in a tension filled tale of contentious women, with emotions rising to the fore as death stalks the corridors of the keep.

A fun read by talented author Marian Babson that will keep you turning pages. You won't want to put the book down as Vance comes to understand why his twin was a killer's target.  I'm pleased to highly recommend this book to any mystery fan.  Enjoy.  I sure did.